Tag Archives: social responsibility

Overcoming a History of Human Rights Abuses: Cocoa’s Evolution from Contributing to the Slave Trade to Combatting Child Labor

The well-documented history of cocoa tells the story of an industry driven by greed. However, the picture that is often painted does not speak to how this has evolved.

Dating back as far as 1500 BCE to 400 BCE, the period spanning the Olmec civilization, discoveries and research have firmly validated the significant role that cocoa has long-played in both culture and religion (Coe and Coe, 2013). The same history speaks to a past whereby:

  • origins and producers were exploited by explorers, instigating and contributing to the slave trade for years;
  • industrialized nations seeking to dominate processing and control greater market share, sparked proxy wars with the imposition of tariffs on imports originating from colonies other than their own (present and/or former); and
  • saw industrialized nations assume a patriarchal stance that significantly limited powers and diminished the voice of producing origins (former colonies)—lost ground that would take them years to recapture.
Map of Mesoamerica – Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies (FAMSI)

The following seeks to detail cocoa’s dark past—one whose opacity perpetuated years of human rights abuses including forced and child labor. Having evolved as an industry, the following will also outline industry’s transition into an ever-increasingly transparent and responsible global industry that remains challenged by perceptions based on its past and wrestling to break free from its dark history.

Cocoa’s Sordid Past and Contribution to the Slave Trade

Spanning the Pre-Classic (2000 BCE to 300 CE) to Post Classic (900 to 1500 CE) periods, the number and diversity of explorers ballooned, ultimately leading to a dramatic shift in where and by whom cocoa was produced, as well as who (specifically which nations and companies) would profit from its trade, increasingly efficient processing, and mass manufacturing.

Due largely to voluntary and involuntary migration (i.e., the slave trade) the movement of goods and saw Theobroma cacao cultivation spread from its genetic origins of the Amazon Basin and cultural and religious roots which have been traced back to Mesoamerica (present-day Mexico through Central America) (Coe and Coe, 2013).

Global flow of goods and movement of people during the height of the slave trade.

In what is now present-day Central and South America, during the early 1500s, under the encomienda system, Spanish conquistadors were granted rights to force indigenous inhabitants to perform labor in their favor (Martin, 2019). This led to an irreparable deterioration of culture and loss of land (Martin, 2019). On the other side of the Atlantic, chattel slavery, the practice whereby people are treated as property, between 1500 and 1900, it is estimated that up to 15 million Africans were enslaved, of which 40 out of every 100 died in waiting or during transatlantic transport. In both cases, indigenous peoples were forced to cultivate cocoa while seeing little to no profit in return. In addition, favoritism played into economic positioning among industrialized nations as tariffs and quotas sought to control production and supply with demand (Leissle, 2018).

As cocoa’s production footprint broadened, applications and formulations evolved, popularity within consumer markets increased, and its importance as a traded commodity destined for processing units around the world surged.

As competition grew fiercer, regulation became an ever more critical element to ensure the crop’s viability. But most importantly, it was introduced to ensure economic stability for countries and operators who relied on the trade. This period gave rise to regulatory standards and voluntary certification programs in cocoa—both of which grew more diverse and exacting during the late 1980s present day.

Perhaps the most prolific shift, and marking industry’s acknowledgment that improvements were both possible and needed, with the enactment of the Harkin Engel Protocol in 2001, accountability, and requirements to proactively identify instances, address breakdowns, and prevent arrange of defined human rights abuses took center stage. When introduced, regulatory requirements and elements core to voluntary certification systems fundamentally changed how supply chain operators engaged producers, managed their businesses, interacted with the market, and reported.

During the same period, industry associations were established, and collective efforts launched. Among them were groups such as the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), and the Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group (CLCCG), all groups representing interests at every level from all sides.

In due course, regulations and certifications designed to promote best practices, ensure worker (producer), crop, and environmental protections, combat fraudulent claims, and ensure accurate reporting and labeling (i.e., of provenance, certification claims, production practices, quality, etc.) have improved, expanded, and been welcomed.

Adoption, adaptation, replication, and the proliferation of programs, as well as their capabilities and level of sophistication, continue to evolve rapidly. Not glued simply to factors related to compliance, conformity, or competitiveness, companies are investing significant amounts of resources to align with and exceed regulatory, consumer, and commercial standards and expectations. However, despite advances, and an elongating track record of progress and proactive effort, the industry is often chastised for not doing enough, investing enough, or sharing enough.

Stuck in the Past and Unable to Break the Cycle: The Vilification of the Cocoa Industry

Sampling of Collective Industry Efforts – Programs and Reporting

Seeking to address systemic constraints perpetuating or exacerbating breakdowns, the industry has demonstrated its willingness and ability to come to affect change.

For example, after launching, implementing, and learning from the original and subsequent iterations of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) Cocoa Livelihoods Program (CLP), after several years of complex negotiations (balancing risk, exposure, and financial implications), WCF and its member companies launched, and have developed good traction with Cocoa Action, one of several WCF initiatives designed, developed, and implemented with and through its members.[1] While they admit that it took more time to lay the groundwork that they had initially anticipated, they ultimately emerged with a thoughtful and thorough platform that continues to progress well.[2]

Additionally, since its founding in 2002, the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) has significantly influenced positive movement on all fronts concerning child labor, including the development of new tools, systems, and metrics to measure progress. This includes the consultative process that led to the development of standards for collective and individual Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS).

Recognizing that they can only harness so much, Industry has teamed with governments, international standard-setting bodies, research institutions, and others to advance efforts to combat forced and child labor, address its root causes, and improve reporting practices to bolster transparency.

Sampling of Individual Company Efforts – Programs and Reporting

Having worked inside and alongside the world’s leading cocoa companies, I recall several meetings where heads of responsible sourcing and on-the-ground activities expressed concern that not enough was being done to address the root causes. Without taking on migration, land, voting, and school registration issues, efforts would continue to face challenges. To do this, the group discussed land ownership and migratory movements of Burkinabe to Côte d’Ivoire, their inability to secure land, and in many cases, to register their children in school. While it was not the first, and certainly not the last, this was a good reminder that addressing the child labor issue was not as clear-cut as many often like to think.

Beyond programs that tighten controls, incentivize parents for producing school registration certificates, third-party certification audits that verify adherence to specific standards and practices, and collective and individual company efforts to refine and expand CLMRS, the industry continues to improve the technical scope of their programs.

The following list provides a snapshot of reports detailing global efforts to address a wide range of unique challenges faced by cocoa farming communities—including child labor. These are offered in response to comments made during the recent film screening and panel discussion “Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain.” – May 2019 Discussion

Key takeaways from the May 2019 discussion [and report] aligned with similar panels and studies that point to:

  1. The complexity and scope of the issue;
  2. range and number of actors and implications along the value chain at each stage;
  3. need for leaders, officials, and representatives from all sides (public and private), and on all levels (municipal, regional, national, and international) to work together to develop and enact responses that effectively address root causes; and
  4. calls for greater transparency.

Specific to claims around the lack of transparency and access, deficiencies noted during the discussion included the following:

  1. Visibility into supply chain monitoring plans, geographical scope, findings, and improvements; and
  2. the number, frequency, and quality of public disclosures of internal reports.

In practice, the following are evident:

  1. Companies are proactively and thoughtfully engaged in addressing child and forced labor—not merely in response to regulations or calls from consumers or international bodies;
  2. companies are leading in investments in certification programs, traceability systems, coordinating industry-wide efforts and policy formulation; and
  3. the quality and frequency of reporting are there despite claims that it is absent of lacking.
Excerpt from the Cocoa Life progress report outlining Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

These are vital considerations to bear in mind when looking at the balance of what is being done, by whom, how it financed, and what is being said about those leading the way and reporting on it as appeals for greater transparency play into the vilification of cocoa companies instead of praise for their role in realizing progress.

While there is much more to bring into the frame, the above does tell speak to the other side of the story—one that is rarely shared.

Things have come a long way; however, despite grand efforts to date, many forms of forced and child labor still exist, and the number of instances of human rights violations are still far too prevalent. To that end, much more can and will continue to be done. Going forward, stakeholders must move forward together with the mindful that this is an ever-evolving and continuously improving process in terms of design, implementation, and measurement.

So while independent company activities and collective industry-wide efforts have evolved and improved with learnings over the years, there are programmatic gaps and blind spots that must be proactively and constructively addressed.

Works Cited

Casara, M., Dallabrida, P., Martin, Carla D. “Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. April 24, 2019. Film Screening and Discussion.

Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor”. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. March 6, 2019. Lecture.

“Child Labor in the Production of Cocoa”. March 22, 2018. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs. Accessed April 30, 2019. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/child-labor-cocoa.

“Child Labor in the Production of Cocoa”. March 22, 2018. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs. Accessed April 30, 2019. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/child-labor-cocoa.

“Cocoa Life 2017 Progress Report”. 2017. Mondelez International. Accessed April 28, 2019. https://www.cocoalife.org/~/media/CocoaLife/en/download/article/Cocoa_Life_Progress_Report_2017.pdf.

“How We Measure Progress”. Mondelez International. Accessed April 28, 2019. https://www.cocoalife.org/impact#.

“Assessment of Forced Labor Risk in the Cocoa Sector of Côte d’Ivoire”. Verité, 2019. Accessed April 23, 2019. https://www.verite.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Verite-Report-Forced-Labor-in-Cocoa-in-CDI.pdf.

“Nestle Cocoa Plan, Tackling Child Labour 2017 Report”. Nestle. 2017. Accessed April 29, 2019. https://www.nestle.com/asset-library/documents/creating-shared-value/responsible-sourcing/nestle-cocoa-plan-child-labour-2017-report.pdf.

Picolotto, A., Giovanaz, D., Casara, J., Loth, Laura W., Lambranho, L., Casara, M., Dallabrida, P., Sabrina, R., and Kruse, T. “Cocoa Supply Chain: Advances ad Challenges Toward the Promotion of Decent Work”. 2019. International Labour Organization (ILO), Public Labour Prosecutor’s Office (MPT), Papel Social. https://cocoainitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Cocoa_EN.pdf.

“2017 Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group Annual Report”. United States Department of Labor. 2017. Accessed April 23, 2019. https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ilab/CLCCG2017AnnualReport.pdf.

“Harkin-Engel Protocol”. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs. 2001. Accessed April 24, 2019.

https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ilab/Harkin_Engel_Protocol.pdf.

“Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain: Film Screening and Discussion, Part 1” [Multimedia Video]. Retrieved from the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute YouTube Channel. April 27, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKr2_0egfzA.

“Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain: Film Screening and Discussion, Part 2” [Multimedia Video]. Retrieved from the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute YouTube Channel. April 27, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKr2_0egfzA.

“Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS) in the Société Coopérative Ivoirienne du Négoce des Produits Agricoles (SCINPA) Cooperative”. Olam International. 2017.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd Edition, Thames & Hudson, 2013.


[1] Initiatives, World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), https://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/initiatives/

[2] CocoaAction 2017: What We Have Learned, World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), https://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/2017cocoaactiondata/

The old, the new, and the fight against injustice

Since chocolate was first discovered and loved by the Europeans, slave labor has been used to grow and harvest cacao. Slaves had to deal with horrific working conditions, malnourishment, and poor treatment from their owners—which caused life expectancy to be incredibly low. Even though slavery was abolished across the globe, many issues of forced labor and child labor still exist today. Cocoa farmers, especially in West Africa, have been depicted as either the exploiters—through their use of child labor and slavery like conditions—or the exploited—by big chocolate companies and the global market (Martin, Lecture 7 slide 23). For example of the exploiters, in Bitter Chocolate, the author points out that “Macko learned of another category of labour that he couldn’t quite fathom. What his informers described sounded a lot like slavery, and what made the stories even more horrifying was that it seemed the slaves were children” (Off 120). In regards to the exploited, when talking about the villagers who farm cacao, the author claims that “their primary activity here is to produce cocoa for the international market. As such, they earn just enough money from cocoa sales to pay for rice and cooking oil. There’s usually nothing left over” (Off 5). However, neither depiction is entirely accurate. There are much deeper issues than this simple binary suggests. According to Video 1 below, the number of child laborers more than doubled in Côte d’Ivoire from 2010 to 2015 to 1.6 million, and the government and big chocolate companies’ efforts to curb the issue have not worked. Also, as is seen in Figure 3, farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana receive only $0.50 and $0.84 per day, respectively—showing a huge divide between the compensation of the farmers and the profit of large chocolate companies. As is evident from these passages, there are major issues that surround the current marketplace for cacao. But, as consumers become more and more socially conscious about what they buy, some chocolate companies—and world organizations—have made it their mission to protect workers, pay them properly, and give their customers an ethically sourced and delicious product.

CACOCO

One such company is CACOCO, a Santa Cruz, California based drinking chocolate company, started in 2014, that has made it their mission to provide ethically sourced chocolate to its customers, and to protect and help the Earth in the process. According to their website, “CACOCO is the purest form of cacao directly sourced from beyond-organic farms, that not only improve the health of the environment but produce a chocolate that showcases the finer nuances of well-maintained soil and cultivation and highlight the terroir of the region” (“About Us”). It is their stated mission to “source the Earth’s purest ingredients from regenerative food systems, provide customers healthy, safe and delicious products with uncompromised quality, service and integrity, [and to] create and implement the most sustainable methods and systems for our organization” (“About Us”).

In this course, we have raised many questions regarding the ethics of cocoa production. One of the main things we talked about is that some companies don’t know where exactly they are getting their cacao from, so they have no idea whether or not their product is ethically sourced. This means that they could be getting cacao from farms who use child labor or slave labor to grow and harvest their product. To counter this, all of CACOCO’s cacao is currently sourced from organic and regenerative farms in Ecuador (“About Us”). This way, they are able to know exactly where their product comes from, and they can more easily make sure that all of their cacao is produced and harvested the right way. Another main issue we discussed  was fair and steady compensation. It is no secret that a very small portion of the profit from a chocolate bar goes to the farmer, but as Figure 2 shows, it is actually the smallest share overall at only 3%. To make matters worse, as the price of cacao—a commodity—fluctuates, so does the income of farmers, meaning a drop in the price of cacao can have a drastic impact on the farmers and their families.

Fortunately, CACOCO’s cacao is Fair Trade Certified, which means that, according to Fair Trade USA, “producers and businesses we work with adhere to strict labor, environmental, and ethics standards that prohibit slavery and child labor and ensure cocoa growers receive a steady income, regardless of volatile market prices” (“Where to Buy”). Thus, given their certification, CACOCO checks the boxes for all these criteria—meaning that our worries of slavery and child labor, as well as unstable and unsustainable income that we discussed in class, are nothing to worry about when purchasing chocolate from CACOCO.

CACOCO even goes a step further in their efforts for ethically and sustainably sourced cacao by trying to help the Earth in the process, as all of their packaging is compostable and made from 100% recycled materials (“About Us”). Their website even claims that “each purchase you make of CACOCO Drinking Chocolate directly supports the vision of a planet where natural ecosystems are managed intelligently, resources are utilized respectfully, and people are treated well at each step of the process” (“About Us”). CACOCO is also working with Terra Genesis International (TGI) “to build a regenerative network of businesses committed to rebuilding supply chains based on regenerative principles” (“About Us”). Thus, CACOCO seems to be doing all it can to create an ethically and sustainably sourced chocolate product.

GHIRADELLI (LINDT)

On the other hand, some companies have been slow to change—or have yet to change much at all. One such example is the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, which is now owned by Lindt & Sprüngli. I want to specifically name Ghirardelli inside of the Lindt umbrella in order to emphasize how close to home these problems are—because Ghirardelli chocolate is everywhere in the US, especially in retail stores. According to Lindt & Sprüngli’s 2017 annual report, Ghirardelli ranks No. 3 in the US in terms of dark chocolate sales (Lindt). Ghirardelli also became the No. 2 baking brand in the United States in 2011 (“About Ghirardelli”). Thus, it is important to emphasize that when I discuss Lindt & Sprüngli, I am also discussing Ghirardelli (and vice versa).

Ghirardelli Chocolate Company was founded in 1852 in San Francisco, California. In 1865, “a Ghirardelli employee discovers that by hanging a bag of chocolate mass in a warm room, the cocoa butter drips out, leaving a residue that can be processed into ground chocolate. This is known as the Broma process and produces a more intense chocolate flavor than other techniques” (“About Ghirardelli”). Shortly thereafter, the company expanded their business from the western United States to the eastern United States, China, Mexico and Japan (“About Ghirardelli”). In 1965, Ghirardelli Square became an official city landmark, and later received National Historic Register status—solidifying itself as a staple of the Bay Area (“About Ghirardelli”). It has also partnered with Disney to create a Disney Studio Store in Hollywood, and continued to innovate with their famous Ghirardelli Squares—turning classic treats into best-selling holiday and dark chocolate candies (“About Ghirardelli”). They were acquired by Lindt & Sprüngli in 1998 (“About Ghirardelli”).

Ghirardelli chocolate, over the past one hundred and fifty years, has become an American staple in the chocolate industry. However, they have been slow to fight the injustices of the chocolate supply chain. They claim to “comply with high standard of ethics and sustainability in the procurement of our raw materials and in their processing into high-quality LINDT chocolate” (“The Commitment”). However, contrary to CACOCO, Lindt has no fair trade or labor certifications as of 2017 (Figure 1). Instead, they are “self-certified.” Although this beats no certification, their self-certification doesn’t hold them to the rigid standards of Fair Trade Certifications, and they aren’t accountable to anyone outside of themselves. But, in their defense, Lindt has instituted a program called the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program, which aims to “to trace ingredients back to their origin and support farmers according to their specific needs” (“Sustainably”). This program supports local farmers and helps them to apply “good agricultural, social, environmental and business practices in the management of their farms” (“Sustainably”). This allows Lindt to also verify social and environmental practices of the farms within the program in order to make sure their cacao is ethically and sustainably sourced (“Sustainably”). Lindt also aims to limit intermediaries—or “middle men”—between themselves and the farms to make sure they receive fair payment for their product (“Sustainably”).

According to their website, “over 85% of Ghirardelli cocoa beans are sourced through the Lindt & Sprüngli farming program” (“Sustainable Cocoa”). And, as of 2017, 79% of Lindt’s cocoa was certified (Figure 1). Although these numbers are higher than some chocolate companies, that means that 15% of the cocoa beans Ghirardelli gets have unknown origins (at least based on their website, which has no further mention of where the other 15% of cocoa beans come from) and 21% of Lindt’s total cacao in 2017 went uncertified. CACOCO sources 100% of their cacao beans from regenerative and organic farms in Ecuador—meaning none of the cacao’s origins are unknown. Thus, Ghirardelli doesn’t know whether or not some of their cacao comes from farms with poor working conditions, slave and child labor, or unfair wages. However, Lindt has made it their goal to go to 100% certified cacao by 2020—which would be a major step towards fixing issues of the cacao supply chain (Figure 1).

In addition to Lindt’s farming program, they have also introduced the Lindt & Sprüngli Suppler Code of Conduct Agreement and the Lindt Cocoa Foundation. The Code establishes “minimum standards, such as requirements regarding industrial wastewater treatment, air emission and environmental reporting” while also prohibiting the use of “corruption, bribery, discrimination and child labor” (“Sustainably Sourced”). The Code also “insists on freely chosen employment, fair compensation and working conditions, as well as freedom of association and obligates suppliers to pass these principles on to sub-suppliers” (“Sustainably Sourced”). Any purchase order made by Lindt requires the supplier to sign the Code of Conduct Agreement, and failure to uphold these obligations results in termination of the supplier contract (“Sustainably Sourced”). Secondly, the Lindt Cocoa Foundation’s job is “ to work towards achieving social and ecological sustainability in the cultivation, production and processing of cocoa and other ingredients used in chocolate production” (“Sustainably Sourced”). Thus, with these two initiatives, Lindt is trying to fix many of the issues that plague their cocoa supply chain—although without outside certification, it is harder for consumers to judge the strength and reach of these initiatives. Although this is a step in the right direction, Lindt has a lot more to prove to consumers that want to hold them accountable—and it starts with some sort of third-party certification, such as a Fair Trade Certification, and meeting their goal of 100% certified cacao by 2020.

Conclusion

Both companies are running initiatives to try to combat the problems of the cacao supply chain. CACOCO is a relatively new company that epitomizes the direction of which consumers are heading in regards to socially and environmentally conscious consumption. CACOCO is Fair Trade Certified, provides zero waste packaging, and preaches the importance sustainability, responsibility, and health—all in an effort to maximize consumer and producer happiness. Ghirardelli, on the other hand, is not Fair Trade Certified, but they are fighting injustice in other ways. Their farming program, along with the Lindt Cocoa Foundation and the Supplier Code of Conduct Agreement, are making steps towards a more transparent and equitable growing and harvesting environment in their cacao supply chain. With the completion of their goal of 100% certified cacao by 2020, they too would be well on their way towards creating a better, more equitable, and safer world in cacao farming.

As consumers, it is our duty to be as conscious as we can in order to create change. Companies that are doing the right thing, that are fighting the injustices of the cocoa supply chain, are the ones that should receive our money. As more and more issues are brought to light, it is up to us to hold these companies accountable for their sourcing of raw materials, and to make sure it is done as sustainably, and equitably, as possible—because we have as much of a duty to make a difference as they do.

Figure 1
SOURCE: Martin, Carla. “Lecture 1: Chocolate Politics.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 30 Jan 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (slide 7).
Figure 2
SOURCE: “Is There Child Labor in Your Halloween Candy? Chocolate Scorecard Identified Good, Ghoulish Companies.” Green America, Green America, 11 Oct. 2018, http://www.greenamerica.org/press-release/there-child-labor-your-halloween-candy-chocolate-scorecard-identified-good-ghoulish-companies.
Figure 3
SOURCE: Martin, Carla. “Lecture 1: Chocolate Politics.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 30 Jan 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (slide 8).
Video 1
SOURCE: Riggs, Ayn. “CREER-Africa Is Featured on News Story about Child Labor in the Cocoa Sector.” YouTube, Aljazeera, 12 Nov. 2015, http://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=64&v=2lk_OMPDlJc.

Works Cited

Scholarly

  • “About Us.” CACOCO, CACOCO, drinkcacoco.com/pages/about.
  • Lindt & Sprüngli. Annual Report 2017 NAFTA Markets. Kilchberg, Switzerland: Lindt & Sprüngli, 2017. Lindt & Sprüngli. Web. 2 May 2019.
  • Martin, Carla. “Lecture 7: Modern day slavery.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 27 March 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation.
  • Off, Carol. 2008. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet.

Multimedia

  • Martin, Carla. “Lecture 1: Chocolate Politics.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 30 Jan 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (slide 7).
  • Martin, Carla. “Lecture 1: Chocolate Politics.” AFRAMER 119X: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 30 Jan 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (slide 8).

Askinosie: A Company with a Social Mission

Chocolate is a $100 billion industry yet the majority of these profits are enjoyed by a handful of multinational companies. Those who actually grow the cocoa beans and provide the raw ingredient for the world’s chocolate see but a miniscule fraction of these profits: 3% according to the image below.

real-cost-of-a-chocolate-bar_orig
Farmers earn only 3% of the profits from chocolate sales. The largest share goes to those who process and sell the finished product.

The majority of the value of chocolate sales is captured by retailers and chocolate manufacturers while the farmers at the bottom of the supply chain receive the smallest share. This inequality lies at the heart of the chocolate industry today. One bean-to-bar chocolate company called Askinosie seeks to do things differently. This post examines some of the challenges inherent in the structural inequality of the cocoa supply chain then looks at Askinosie’s mission and how it attempts to combat the dark side of chocolate production.

The truth behind the chocolate bar  

70% of the world’s cocoa is grown in only four West African countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Cameroon, and Nigeria (Martin and Sampeck 50). The majority of this cocoa production is spread over two million small, independent family farms (Martin and Sampeck 50). Yet most of these farmers live well below the poverty line, a threshold defined by the World Bank as $1.90 per day (The World Bank). In fact, the typical average income for a family producing cocoa in Ghana is between $0.50 and $0.80 per day (Martin). These farmers work to survive on incomes that are volatile and irregular. Their wages are loosely tied to the weight of the cocoa beans, but even that is an oversimplification, as many other factors impact how much they earn (Martin). The profitability of their farms may fluctuate based on circumstances outside of their control: changing commodity prices of cocoa, weather and climate change, deforestation, political unrest and even war.

The Middleman

One major factor that determines how much or how little a farmer receives is the next step in the supply chain, the buyer. Farmers often have no choice but to sell cocoa to local buyers, a practice often rife with corruption and little oversight. In some cases, scales may be fixed to reflect an incorrect cocoa weight or farmers may not even be permitted to look at the scales when the cocoa beans are being weighed, relying solely only on the buyer’s word (Leissle 110).

Unpaid Labor

Many of these farmers may not be the owners of the farms but farm workers, which ties into another pressing issue in cocoa production: the harmful exploitation of labor. The cocoa industry has had a long history of egregious labor practices, including the worst forms of child labor. Though many statistics have been put forth over the past few decades and studies have been conducted by independent organizations finding evidence of child trafficking and slavery, the exact number of forced child labor in cocoa production today remains difficult to measure (Berlan 1089). This in no way diminishes the gravity of the situation, and any evidence of the worst forms of child labor must be addressed and eradicated. The challenge is that many of these children work on family farms where they are expected to be involved in the daily activities of the farm and perhaps learn the necessary skills to one day take the farm over themselves (Berlan 1090). Often, farm work is simply considered to be part of the child’s chores. The difficulty arises when children are not enrolled in school and are involved in long hours and heavy work that harms their physical or mental health and safety. A common thread among all these cases is that farm owners simply do not earn enough to hire labor and therefore depend on unpaid labor for basic survival.

The Fairtrade Label

Certification systems such as Fairtrade tackle these issues directly by ensuring that all products bearing the Fairtrade label comply with its terms, such as sustainable and environmentally safe farming practices, fair labor conventions according to the International Labour Organization that prohibit discrimination, forced labor, and the worst forms of child labor. As long as producer organizations can pay a certification fee and comply with the terms, they are ensured a Minimum Price for cocoa and receive a Fairtrade Premium (Leissle 141). Though well-intentioned, the Fairtrade label is not without criticism and controversy. Charging a certification fee to growers only adds to their existing financial hardships. As for the Minimum Price paid to cocoa producers, it has been criticized as being too low and stagnant to significantly improve the lives of cocoa farmers (Leissle 142).

Nonetheless, Fairtrade has successfully raised consumer awareness of the inequality and human rights injustices in cocoa production. The dialogue and media attention it has created has stirred industry giants into action, forcing the largest players in the chocolate industry to take more corporate responsibility. Nestlé, Mars, Cadbury, and Ferrero have all committed to sourcing Fairtrade certified cocoa in some of their products (Leissle 147). Just this month, CNN published an article stating that Mondelēz had publicly pledged to use 100% sustainable cocoa by 2025, albeit through its internal Cocoa Life program (Wiener-Bronner). The fact that said cocoa would be certified by its in-house sustainability program, of course, raises the question of just how rigorous the program will be and if it will be transparent at all.

cadburys-dairy-milk-140g1.jpg
Is Cadbury, given its questionable ethical history, being opportunistic by placing a Fairtrade label on its most popular product?

In fact, the lack of transparency in sourcing methods has been a constant criticism of the Big Five companies. For example, Hershey claims that a third of its cocoa comes from certified sustainable sources, however, little is known of their origins (Leissle 147). The ability of these multinational companies to pick and choose some, but not all, of their products to be Fairtrade certified is not a positive step towards eliminating the injustices in the cocoa industry. As Ndongo Sylla points out in The Fair Trade Scandal, certifying only products rather than the organizations themselves allows companies with unethical practices and a controversial history to maintain a positive public image without committing in any significant way (130). How do we differentiate between opportunistic companies that are jumping on the Fairtrade bandwagon and those that are morally committed to corporate activism and responsibility?

Askinosie & Social Responsibility  

Askinosie is a bean-to-bar chocolate company founded in Springfield, Missouri by Shawn Askinosie who retired from a 20-year career as a defense attorney in 2005 in order to start making his own chocolate. The company sources the beans directly from cocoa farms and processes the beans itself into the chocolate products that they sell. While many small companies today employ the same bean-to-bar model, Askinosie is unique in its dedication to social responsibility. Shawn Askinosie states on the Askinosie website: “I can confidently say the greatest opportunity and challenge has been weaving social responsibility into everything we do; it’s not just a buzzword, it’s who we are. Askinosie Chocolate was born committed to fairness, sustainability, minimal environmental impact and community enhancement” (Askinosie).

Direct Trade

What sets Askinosie apart is its direct trade model. It buys beans directly from the grower, eliminating the need for intermediary buyers and middlemen and allowing each step of this very short supply chain to be traceable (Leissle 154). This allows Askinosie to source fine flavor beans that meet its standards of quality. By having a say in every step of the post-harvesting process such as fermentation and drying, Askinosie is able to “ensure the resulting beans taste as perfect as possible” as well as spot defective beans before they arrive at the factory (Askinosie). The company is also able to control pre-shipment storing methods, the types of bags the cocoa beans are shipped in, as well as the actual importation and transportation of the beans themselves

Profit-sharing

Everything starts with quality–and an appreciation of farmers. We honor farmers as experts and craftsmen, so we treat them as such and consider them partners in our business. We work together with our farmer partners to create exceptional chocolate from exceptional cocoa beans.”    (Askinosie)

Askinosie prides itself in knowing the name of every farmer it works with and being able to trace the beans directly to the source, whether that source is a single farmer or a cooperative of smallholder farmers. And in addition to paying farmers prices that are, on average, 35% higher than world market price and 25% higher than the Fairtrade price, Askinosie shares its profits directly with its farmers. In doing so, farmers are treated as business partners, sharing in up to 10% of the net profits of the company (Askinosie). Because every single origin can be traced to the exact source, the very farm or cooperative, growers are able to get a percentage of the sales of products made with those beans. Both sides benefit in this mutually supportive model. Askinosie can source excellent beans and control a large part of the process that impacts flavor and quality, and the farmers are able to earn more. 

Askinosie also shares with the farmers its financial statements in what it calls its “Open Book Management policy.” In frequent trips to the farms, Askinosie shares the numbers and how each bean purchase affects the net profits of the company. These discussions “enable the farmers to connect the quality of their beans to the outcome of each chocolate bar,” showing farmers how improvements on post-harvest techniques can “ensure an even greater profit margin in the future, which means more opportunities for the farmers to share in a success they helped create” (Askinosie).

Transparency

In sharp contrast to multinational companies that offer consumers vague or almost no information about its supply chains, Askinosie publishes a Transparency Report detailing its purchase history from its inception. Following in the footsteps of Taza Chocolate, the first company to practice direct trade and also publish an annual transparency report, Askinosie fully discloses yearly prices paid for beans, how much was paid directly to farmers, the amount of profit shared, and even details of Shawn Askinosie’s yearly visits to the farms (Leissle 153; Askinosie). Unlike Taza, however, Askinosie provides detailed figures about the farm gate price paid to farmers, which allows consumers to know exactly how much farmers receive (Leissle 157). This remarkable level of transparency not only enhances consumer trust in the company but also raises the bar for the industry as a whole.

Community Development

Askinosie sources its beans from four origins: Davao, Philippines; Mababu, Tanzania; San Jose del Tambo, Ecuador; and Zamora, Amazonia in Ecuador. In each of these locations, Shawn Askinosie has built and maintained long-term relationships with each of the farmers who supplies his beans through the company’s direct trade practices (Askinosie).

In Davao and Mababu, Askinosie has worked to directly support the local communities through a sustainable lunch program called A Product of Change. In a pledge to ensure that local school children eat more than one meal a day, Askinosie sells local food products from those regions in its online store, storefront, and to other food retailers. 100% of the profits from those products go back to the schools to provide lunches for their students. In Mababu, Askinosie funded the first textbooks and computers at a local school and a deep water well delivering potable water to the entire village. In both Zamora and Mababu, Askinosie partners with female-led farmer cooperatives, recognizing and empowering a traditionally marginalized and undervalued demographic in cocoa production (Askinosie).

Screen Shot 2019-05-03 at 1.24.04 AM
Monica Guaman, lead farmer partner in Zamora, is prominently featured on the front of Askinosie’s single-origin Zamora bar. Askinosie features the actual individuals who farm the beans that go into each single-origin chocolate bar. (Source: Askinosie)

Education

In addition to developing the communities of its farmer partners, Askinosie seeks to involve the local community of Springfield through the establishment of Chocolate University, which is funded by proceeds from chocolate tours at the Askinosie factory. This learning program for local elementary, middle school, and high school students provides a hands-on experience with the goal of inspiring the youth “through the lens of artisan chocolate making to be global citizens and embrace the idea that business(es) can solve world problems” (Askinosie). The program even takes a group of high school students every year to Mababu, Tanzania where students engage with cocoa farmers on the farms and learn about small business and direct trade, allowing them to witness sustainable business practices firsthand and inspiring them to be agents of change within their own communities.

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Proceeds from tours of Askinosie’s chocolate factory go directly towards funding the Chocolate University (Source: Askinosie)

Final Thoughts

Social responsibility lies at the core of Askinosie’s mission, which it successfully executes through its direct trade and profit-sharing with its farmer partners. Direct trade eliminates the need for middlemen, ensuring that farmers receive their just pay. The transparency of its pricing and sourcing practices allows the public to see that these farmers are receiving above market price for their cocoa beans, which in turn, allows them to hire employees on their farms and support their local economies. 

The company also recognizes the importance of knowledge at all points in the cocoa supply chain. Askinosie team members in Springfield and farmer partners on cocoa farms alike receive financial education on the company’s numbers. The Transparency Report informs the public. Students of Chocolate University learn about corporate social responsibility, of the work that goes into cocoa farming, and the challenges in cocoa production. This level of transparency within the supply chain and the initiative to educate and inform consumers are refreshing in an industry that is often shrouded in so much ambiguity.

Askinosie should be lauded for its exemplary practices. However, so much more work needs to be done in the cocoa industry for large-scale change to occur. Direct trade is one step in the right direction, but it is limited in scale as top-quality beans are prioritized over bulk beans, which make up the majority of beans produced in the world and in whose production we find so many of the industry’s complex problems. Notice the absence from Askinosie’s selection of origins any West African country where these inequalities abound. This is likely due to sourcing challenges by any small craft company in this region of the cocoa-producing world, further indication of the many challenges in the global cocoa supply chain (Martin and Sampeck 55). The reality is that many consumers do not want to pay $10 for a bar of chocolate. And the market of cheap chocolate continues to perpetuate the system of structural inequality that exists today. Farmers depend on cocoa production for their livelihood and survival which are inextricably tied to global consumption and demand. Until the largest players in the cocoa industry start to adopt fair practices and corporate social responsibility on a global scale, until more consumers are made aware of the complexities behind that chocolate bar, the problems we see today, sadly, will continue to exist.  

 

Scholarly Works Cited

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088-1100.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Martin, Carla. “Modern Day Slavery.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 27 Mar. 2019, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Lecture.

Martin, Carla, and Kathryn Sampeck. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.” 2016, pp. 37-60.

Sylla, Ndongo. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Translated by David Clément Leye, Ohio University Press, 2014.

Multimedia Sources

Askinosie Chocolate. Askinosie, http://www.askinosie.com. Accessed 2 May 2019.

“The Real Cost of a Chocolate Bar.” Raisetrade, http://www.raisetrade.com/real-cost-of-a-chocolate-bar.html. Accessed 2 May 2019.

“Fairtrade Certified Cadbury Dairy Milk.” Chocablog, http://www.chocablog.com/features/how-fair-is-fairtrade-chocolate. Accessed 2 May 2019.

The World Bank, 2019, http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview. Accessed 2 May 2019.

Wiener-Bronner, Danielle. “Toblerone and Cadbury will be made with sustainable cocoa.” CNN Business, 29 Apr. 2019, amp.cnn.com/cnn/2019/04/29/business/mondelez-cocoa-sustainability/index.html. Accessed 2 May 2019.

 

Theo Chocolate: Trendsetters and Pioneers for Bean-to-Bar Companies and Socially Conscious Consumers Alike

Theo Chocolate is the first bean-to-bar chocolate company that is an organic fair trade-certified and GMO-free cocoa producer in the United States. Based out of Seattle starting in 2006, Theo Chocolate is a pioneer of a shared value for-profit company.  By expanding economic value and social value simultaneously to the cost of the goods they are selling, they are an exemplary leader of how companies can be more socially and environmentally responsible. When they first were founded, they applied creative entrepreneurial solutions to capture a small share of a large market and ultimately forever influenced the way consumers interact with the products they choose to purchase. Consumers of Theo Chocolate better understand the supply chains of the product they are consuming, naturally develop loyalty to brands they trust and faithfully believe in, and shape market perceptions of the fundamental value of chocolate by increasing demand (Butcher 2014). This paper is an ethnographic analysis of Theo Chocolate that will examine their mission as an ethical and sustainable chocolate maker, how that has changed since conception, and how successful the company has been on the basis of their own metrics.

This first section will discuss their founding and original mission statement to focus on their social and environmental success since conception. Theo Chocolate was founded by Joe Whinney, when he wanted to fundamentally challenge the answer to two questions: do chocolate manufacturers bear responsibility for producers of cocoa beans? And do they bear responsibility for how they are produced? As Carol Off describes in her publishing Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet, responsibility regarding who should monitor farming practices has traditionally been pushed around between chocolate companies, large corporations, and even the US and African governments where the beans were being produced (Off 2008). There was no general consensus as to how far the orgins of the cocoa bags of beans should be monitored and tracked. Whinney wanted to break this cycle and take on this responsibility while still being a for-profit company. Whinney’s first founding mission was that “the finest artisan chocolate in the world can and should be produced in an entirely ethical, sustainable fashion”(Butcher 2014). His initial aims were to more concretely improve the growing conditions for farmers and to promote fair trade practices for cocoa bean farmers.

Social Work and Responsibility

With regards to the farmer’s role in the chocolate supply chain, he wanted to make sure they were environmentally and sustainably creating higher quality, larger yields, while also raising the farmers standard of living. Whinney after doing much market research felt that the key to higher quality chocolate was the fermentation of the beans. Fermentation removed the acids and tannins that created bitterness. He felt strongly that the farmers should understand and be educated on the role of fermentation. Consequently, he worked side by side with the farmers to help them adopt the best fermentation practices (Butcher 2014). Not only was it beneficial for Whinney to be able to develop a reliable relationship with farmers that were loyal to the quality he wanted, but it also economically was efficient because the higher percentage of beans that were correctly fermented, the higher prices the farmers were able to demand. Selling beans at higher prices meant that the farmers collected more money to sustain their livelihood. It was a welfare-enhancing transaction for both Whinney as well as the farmers, what he referred to as “enlightened capitalism”. Whinney hoped in the future of sustainable and modern cocoa production, the farmers would take on more of a responsible role controlling the quality of their beans, as well as marketing their own cocoa. He believed that if the farmers could adopt this commanding mentality, their livelihoods wouldn’t be so subject to the prices negotiated by larger chocolate companies.

Whinney was a huge contributor to helping develop price transparency. He established a pricing grid which provided complete information for consumers of the chocolate, the retailers selling the chocolate, but most importantly the bean farmers as well. Educating the farmers about prices allowed them to understand what factors are key determinants to price input. It was essential the farmers understand that when they can utilize proper quality tests and post-harvest practices, they create independent value for themselves as well as Whinney. Theo Chocolate reported that in 2009 when most bulk cocoa was selling for $2,000 a metric ton, they were willing to pay $3,600-$6,000 a metric ton for quality beans, which at this time was highly unpopular (Butcher 2014). Theo Chocolate prided themselves on the high quality of organic and fair trade cocoa they brought in and believed it provided real incentivization for farmers.

Interview of Co-founder Debra Music about Theo Chocolate values

Theo Chocolate wanted to ensure that their business reflected their social responsibility, not only to the farmer but toward the consumer as well. They used only organic ingredients, green energy sources in their operations, as well as sustainable wrapping. Theo Chocolate often donated many of their proceeds towards notable causes that aligned with their company’s values. For example, in 2010 after an earthquake in Haiti, a certain portion of chocolate proceeds were donated to CARE, a relief organization fighting global poverty. With the proceeds, CARE delivered 600,000 water purification tablets to make contaminated water drinkable (Butcher 2014). Additionally, Theo Chocolate had a signature Cherry and Chili Bar, whose proceeds were donated to PCC Farmland Trust, the local food co-op where the cherries and chilies were grown in Washington state. Theo’s World Bicycle Relief Sea Salt Bar was created with the proceeds going towards the World Bicycle Relief Program, who donated bicycles to health care workers in Africa. Two featured bars displayed the Jane Goodall stamp. The stamp was a signal that the bars were an ethically and quality produced product coming from the developing world, and the proceeds promoted forest conservation through the Jane Goodall foundation. Finally, it is notable that locally Theo wanted to help the community whom it hired from and interacted with (Butcher 2014). The company often used the factory store as an events space to help support local businesses, hunger, and other community initiatives.

Entrepreneurial Strategy: Owning the Chocolate Niche

Theo Chocolate developed a unique business marketing and entrepreneurial strategy to generate profits. Their first success as a company came when they understood the market they were dealing with and saw the unrealized opportunity. Whinney observed very early on that they were in a growing market, and that high-quality product would be the future for profits. In 2010, premium chocolate sales, premium chocolate being chocolate that sold for more than $.50/ounce, were about $2.1-2.4 billion total (Butcher 2014). From 2006-2009, the sale of premium chocolate had grown 5 times the rate compared to regular chocolate, and in the US market, there were not many players. When Theo Chocolate was founded there were only approximately only 15 chocolate producers. Most were confectioners who purchased blocks of chocolate and remelted it to make their own chocolate products (Butcher 2014). No bean-to-bar chocolate maker had ever been Fairtrade, organic, and non-GMO. Theo’s quality was certainly the finest as well as the most socially responsible. Whinney was able to recognize many changing chocolate trends and take advantage of them at the forefront. He implemented exotic flavors, savory inspired flavors, raw cocoa, and upscale packaging to be at the forefront of the changing market.

Whinney was a firm believer that chocolate needed to taste extraordinary or else nobody would buy it the second time: “Without having amazing products nothing else matters” (Butcher 2014). His chocolate bars had higher quality cocoa percentages and while expensive to produce, the quality was uncontested. A huge competitive advantage that Theo Chocolate had being a bean-to-bar company rather than a confectioner was full control over the quality. They essentially had full vertical control of the entire chocolate making process from bean sourcing to the chocolate manufacturing. This was essential to keep up with the fast-paced consumer preference changes and trends, allowing them to flexibly adapt to their consumer demand.

Examples of their current, more non-traditional seasonal flavors

Theo chocolate did something never before done in chocolate wrapping marketing in the United States at the time, they received multiple certifications and displayed them on the wrapping of every chocolate bar. Theo Chocolate was the first bean-to-bar company to do this. Currently, on their website, they promote 4 certifications: USDA Organic, Fair Trade for Life, Star-K Kosher Certification, and Non-GMO (Theo Chocolate 2019). Theo Chocolate states on their website: “Trust is fundamental to every relationship, including our relationships with our customers and suppliers. We believe transparency is an important component of trust and employ third-party verification for the claims we make” (Theo Chocolate 2019). Since conception, they have held true to this honest standard, and were the first ones to adopt using this marketing strategy for being fair trade and organic simultaneously. These certifications symbolize that Theo Chocolate prioritizes holding themselves to the highest standard and wants to foster such accountability towards their customers. They also demonstrated by their popularity that the marketing model works, as many more chocolate companies have sought out these very same badges.

Finally, Theo Chocolate is at the forefront of distribution. Premium chocolate has historically been and still is, sold through company-owned stores, specialty stores, and websites. However, they foresaw that organic food would become more sought after in the mid-2000s and correctly predicted there would be more demand for grocery stores that stocked organic chocolate. Theo Chocolate, in as early as 2008, partnered with Whole Foods to provide chocolate bars in their grocery stores. It has been a symbiotic relationship with the two companies because Whole Foods needs suppliers whos incentives aligned to provide the same quality products. According to Whole Foods, “Organic products have grown on average more than 20% per year over the last 7-10 years, making it the fastest growing segment of agriculture”(“Whole Foods UK” 2019). In many ways, Whole Foods acts as a middleman that is able to efficiently match the product produced to the consumer’s growing need. Theo Chocolate positioned themselves strongly within the growing Organic Industry, as well as in the responsible gourmet chocolate industry to catch two rising trends simultaneously and significantly boost demand for their product.

All of these marketing strategies are an indication that Theo deeply understood the new audience they were working with and trying to cater towards. On one hand, they pioneered the socially responsible chocolate, which you now see today in marketplaces as being much more commonplace. On the other hand, they also changed the way consumers think about responding to social responsibility, by developing this consumer consciousness in the typical millennial that is now commonplace. Theo Chocolate created unprecedented change on both the supply, as well as the demand side of organic fair trade chocolate.

Theo Chocolate and the Future

What does the mission statement look like today? Has it changed or strayed from its original intentions? Currently, they proclaim: “As a company rooted in cocoa, our mission is to create a more beautiful, compassionate, and enduring world by responsibly making delicious and inspiring products for everyone” (Theo Chocolate 2017). They are aware of the success their chocolate has received globally. Currently, they are now focusing on further developing the existing built connections between entities and people to make them stronger. One way they are doing this is by turning toward their internal operations to care for the employee base. Theo Chocolate has a strong commitment to developing their employees professionally but also educating them about the strength of social responsibility so each employee can hopefully go out one day and make a substantial impact one way or another.

Video of employees reflecting on company values

Ultimately I conclude that not only are they exemplary at the amount of social impact they have effectively brought about, but Theo Chocolate is one of the first shining examples within the American chocolate industry that could generate outstanding profits because they marketed such social responsibility. They sold America not only their product but their vision. Theo Chocolate made being a bean-to-bar company trendy while also on the consumer-facing side making socially conscious purchases trendy and feel good. Their small share in the chocolate market has set a rippling precedent for American markets to promote corporate social responsibility on any level of scale.

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Works Cited

Butcher, Alva Wright, and Paula A. Wilson. “Theo Choloclate-Doing Well By Doing Good.” Journal of Case Studies 32, no. 1 (2014): 19-36.

Off, Carol. 2008. Bitter Chocolate. New York: The New Press.

“Our Certifications – Theo Chocolate”. 2019. Theo Chocolate. https://www.theochocolate.com/blog/our-certifications/.

Tedxseattle – Debra Music & Joe Whinney – 4/16/10. 2010. Video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQUaUirxnwo.

Theo Chocolate Values. 2019. Video. https://vimeo.com/235404979.

“Whole Foods UK”. 2019. Wholefoodsmarket.Com. https://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/organic/growth-organics-industry.

2018 Heart Of Seattle Winner – Swanson’S Nursery. 2019. Image. https://vimeo.com/265462272.

2019. Image. https://www.theochocolate.com/product/lemon/.

2019. Image. https://www.theochocolate.com/product/grapefruit-ginger/.

Mindo Chocolate Makers: A Leader in the Ethical Bean to Bar Supply Chain

Mindo Chocolate Makers (2018) is a bean to bar chocolate company based in Mindo, Ecuador and Dexter, Michigan.  Their company values not only have the potential to change the chocolate supply chain for the better, but to change chocolate itself.  In order for bean to bar chocolate companies to pay fair wages throughout, not use forced labor, and be environmentally friendly, the company has to be willing to worry about the quality of product they are producing opposed to the amount of product they are producing.  This is exactly what Mindo Chocolate does and if other companies begin to follow their business model, it could drastically impact the chocolate industry for the better.

Mindo prides itself on being “a small business, and no matter how big we grow, we’ll always have a small business mentality that relies on great people coming together –  our growers, our employees, our customers –  to create the most delicious chocolate experience possible” (Mindo, 2018, para. 8).  By creating a sense of community from the moment the beans are harvested, all the way through the time chocolate is served to consumers, this already differs greatly from vast companies such as Hershey.  Mindo also has a goal of putting “more money into the hands of cocoa farmers and their farms, while providing our customers with superior quality, direct-trade, organic cocoa products” (Mindo, 2018, para. 1).  They do this by being a community supported chocolate company, in which their farmers are presented with upfront capital so they can harvest the maximum amount of product during peak season instead of losing income and product due to a lack of funding during harvest season.  One of the main ways Mindo has the potential to change the chocolate industry is by “paying two to three times the fair trade price for cocoa beans” (para. 6).  Doing this “encourage[s] the farmers to resist the hybrid and deforestation trend” (para. 6).  All of Mindo’s beans are from Nacional varieties of cocoa, which is an heirloom variety of cocoa bean, and they will, under no circumstances, accept diseased or hybridized beans (para. 6).

One of the main points that Mindo makes abundantly clear is their focus on community.  When consumers feel a connection to a product and its maker, they are more likely to actually consider the origins and production of the product, in contrast to faceless companies that mass produce chocolate in less than tasteful ways.  For “nine tenths of its long history, chocolate was drunk, not eaten” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 12).  The act of drinking is often a communal activity (e.g., tea, alcohol, coffee, etc.).

Ecuadorian Drinking ChocolateEcuadorian drinking chocolate (Mindo, 2018).  Description: A creamy intensely flavorful chocolate. Natural cocoa, single origin, organic, shade grown, ethically sourced, made from Nacional cocoa beans.  Ingredients: 77% dark chocolate (organic cocoa beans, organic cane sugar) , natural cocoa powder, organic cane sugar.

 In that, for most of its history, chocolate was actually consumed as a beverage, Mindo is committed to preserving the integrity of chocolate, though it is now more often consumed in solid forms; they are maintaining a sense of community even without it being in liquid form.  While companies like Hershey produce vast quantities of chocolate, they are a brand whose main goal is to make money.  They do not strive to be the highest quality and most community involved chocolate company.  By interacting with the community, Mindo is promoting an inquisitory attitude towards the bean to bar process, thus bringing ethics into play.

The question of ethical practices in the food industry is of utmost importance.  With the rising world population, more food is needed, and with this increase in food production, a rise in unfair labor practices is a major risk.  Fair trade is one of the combatants for the practice of unfair production in the food industry:

When you see a product with the Fair Trade Certified™ seal, you can be sure it was made according to rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards. We work closely on the ground with producers and certify transactions between companies and their suppliers to ensure that the people making Fair Trade Certified goods work in safe conditions, protect the environment, build sustainable livelihoods, and earn additional money to empower and uplift their communities. (Fair Trade Certified, 2018, para. 2)

Unfortunately, their claims of a seemingly impeccable system do not exactly hold up.  Some of their critiques include “Little money reaches developing world; [l]ess money reaches farmers; [l]ack of evidence of impact; [c]ost of Fair Trade certification, shouldered by farmers, is quite high; [i]nefficient marketing system (corruption); [q]uality concerns (no incentive); [f]air Trade never meant to be a one-stop shop for solving all social problems” (Martin, 2018a, slide 11).  While on the surface, Fair Trade seems to be an ideal system for bean to bar chocolate production, these issues prevent it from being so.

Mindo is not Fair Trade certified, and is taking fair practices into their own hands.  By paying farmers three times the fair trade value directly, they are ensuring that funds actually reach the farmers themselves and do not get lost in a system instead.  By not being Fair Trade certified and, instead, being independently, extremely dedicated to fair conditions throughout their bean to bar practice, they are able to avoid the hefty fee for Fair Trade certification and invest in fair practices themselves.  Their involvement in Community Supported Chocolate (CSC) (Mindo, 2018) is one of the main components of their upstanding practices.  As a customer you can “[make] a one-time payment that covers three months of a CSC share.  This one-time payment provides [their] farmers with the upfront capital required in cocoa production” (Mindo, 2018, para. 3).  Not only does this benefit the farmers themselves, but those that help fund the farmer’s harvest receive chocolate for being a CSC member.  This reinforces the feeling of community that Mindo strives to accomplish.  Members get the opportunity to actually taste their ethical practices.

By putting the CSC program into action, Mindo has the potential to change the bean to bar supply chain.  The Spaniards viewed “Emperor Moctezuma II drinking frothed chocolate with a degree of ceremony clearly marking it as an exalted food” (Presilla,2009, p. 18).  Chocolate being viewed as an exalted food has become a notion of the past.  Today, chocolate is an everyday commodity and is not viewed as a food for the wealthy.  According to the Hershey Company (2017), in the fourth quarter of 2017 alone, they sold $1,939.6 million worth of products.  The industrialization of the chocolate industry is borderline nullifying the beauty of cocoa.  By having people fund cocoa farmers and then experience chocolate made with cocoa beans they helped to harvest, it promotes an appreciation of the product.  Promoting an appreciation of the cocoa could then lead consumers to shy away from commercialized products such as Hershey bars and Kisses, which are more sugar than cocoa.

Sadly, the sugar industry is a profoundly unethical world.  Throughout history, sugar plantations utilized slave labor as commonplace; now it is still utilized, but since condemned by modern standards, is hidden from the public eye.  Sugar became popularized as a result of “underlying forces in British society and of the exercise of power” (Mintz, 1986, p. 150).  Sugar was for the rich and powerful, which, in turn, made the masses want it.  In order to reach the masses, “England fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves, and went furthest and fastest in creating a plantation system.  The most important product of the system was sugar” (Mintz, 1986, as cited in Martin, 2018b, slide 10).  Sugar production today still often utilizes slave labor and exploits farmers in order to produce cheap products, and lots of them.  Mindo’s refusal to exploit workers in any stage of their bean to bar process is a step against this system.

Some of the main challenges with companies such as Mindo are price point and notoriety.  Mindo is at the higher end of price points for chocolate products because they refuse to use hybridized or unhealthy beans, and pay their workers fair wages.  They are also a small company lost in the sea of media attention for big name companies.  Hershey is able to spend hundreds of millions a year on advertising, enabling them to reach everyone, anywhere.  Smaller companies like Mindo are unlikely to make as much money in five years as Hershey spends solely on advertising in a year long period.  They have a high rate of face to face communication in their company, but not the level of product to consumer communication as Hershey.  A pure 77% chocolate bar from Mindo

Pure 77% Chocolate Bar Description: Pure 77% chocolate, stone-ground to optimal flavor. This is our “flagship” flavor and cacao percentage as it reflects what we do best: dark chocolate made from organic Nacional cocoa beans. Heirloom variety and only fine flavor beans. No milk, no soy, nothing added. Ingredients: organic cocoa beans, organic evaporated cane juice (vegan), Made with cacao (Mindo, 2018).

is seven dollars, whereas a Hershey chocolate bar (usually) is under two dollars.  To consumers, Hershey seems to be the obvious choice because it is far cheaper and more recognizable.  Consumers equate notoriety with trust. What they are unaware of, however, is that Hershey’s chocolate contains roughly the minimum amount of cocoa that can be in a product while still being called chocolate: 10%.  It is at a lower price point because it is mainly sugar and other additives instead of what consumers think they are actually paying for – chocolate.

Mindo pays a premium for their cocoa in order to maintain the integrity of the bean and preserve its true flavor profile.  One of the main reasons that they use the Nacional variety of cocoa is because it “grows intermixed with other plants and trees that promote habitats for midge pollinators, birds, and other animals” (Mindo, 2018, para. 5).  This illustrates their dedication to helping preserve the environment instead of participating in harmful practices of deforestation and hybridization that other companies use.  They are also concerned about consumer safety:  “[a]ll of our beans are dried on long beds at the farmers’ cooperative – a fact that you take for granted until you realize that much of the cacao in the world is dried on the ground or on the side of the road where gasoline and other pollutants can easily seep into the beans” (para. 8).  As a whole, Mindo seems to be doing everything right.  The problem that arises, however, is how do they spread their practices and make their product know to the masses?

In today’s technology driven society, big name companies such as Hershey dominate the advertising industry.  Luckily, of late, social media has been able to bring smaller name brands to the forefront of the sales industry.  There is beginning to be a shift in the consumer trend; people want to feel good about what they are purchasing.  For example, the company Sand Cloud (2018) donates 10% of all of its proceeds to saving marine life and makes ocean-safe sunscreen as well as clothing out of old plastic bottles.  Consumers are willing to pay a higher amount for these products because they feel like they are being socially conscious and actually see, via social media, how their purchase is helping the environment.  Mindo is in a special place in which not only can they take advantage of this new wave of marketing, but their business is founded on it.  Even their inside and outside packaging is made from recycled, compostable material from the bean to bar process – sugar cane pulp.

Pure 77% Chocolate Bar

Pure 77% Mindo (2018) Chocolate Bar – See text at bottom of wrapper.

When buying Mindo Chocolate, not only are consumers helping the environment, but they are helping real people.

The less people buy from commercialized companies and the more they buy from companies such as Mindo, cocoa will become a beacon of change.  Cocoa was originally “ranked with gold and gems in records of solemn offerings to the dead, and [the Spaniards] gathered that its use was restricted to certain prestigious classes” (Presilla, 2009, p. 18).  Thus, cocoa went from being viewed as something reserved for the wealthy to something you can buy for a couple dollars at a convenient store.  Though the masses should be able to enjoy cocoa, it deserves to be respected, and everyone involved in the bean to bar process deserves to be as well.  Mindo is respecting the beans, the people growing them, creating a high quality product, and is inviting consumers to enjoy their community of respect for cocoa in the process.

Mindo is a brand not focused on sales, but on ethics.  It is a passionate company that not only takes pride in their product every step of the way, but is improving the chocolate industry while doing so.  This seemingly small company is utilizing methods that are drastically improving farmers’ lives, helping to preserve the environment, not utilizing slave labor, and still managing to please taste buds in the process.  If quality comes into question, it cannot be disputed that Mindo follows extremely rigorous standards to insure that their cocoa products are of the highest quality and are not diluted with sugar and additives in order to mass produce.  They treat every aspect of cocoa processing with respect and if able to spread their methods and message, can bring the respect cocoa deserves back to the masses.

References

Coe, S.D., & Coe, M.D. (2013). The true history of chocolate.  London: Thames and Hudson  LTD.

Fair Trade Certified. (2018). Our global model. Retrieved from https://www.fairtradecertified.org/why-fair-trade/our-global-model

Hershey. (2017). Hershey announces fourth-quarter and full-year 2017 results; Provides 2018 outlook. Retrieved from https://www.thehersheycompany.com/content/dam/corporate-us/documents/past-presentations/2017/Q4_2017_Press_Release.pdf

Martin, C. (2018a). 20180404 Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization [PowerPoint presentation].

Martin, C. (2018b). 20180228 Slavery, abolition, and forced labor [PowerPoint presentation].

Mindo Chocolate Makers. (2018). Mindo chocolate makers. Retrieved from https://mindochocolate.com/pages/our-process

Mintz, S. W. (1986). Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history.  New York, NY: The Penguin Group.

Presilla, M. E. (2009). The new taste of chocolate revised: A cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. New York, NY: Crown Publishing.

Sand Cloud. (2018). Our mission. Retrieved from https://www.sandcloud.com/pages/our-mission

 

Contradictions in Cacao: How a plant belies its complex origins

To gaze upon a cacao plantation is to overload the senses: a dense canopy of green filters light into dappled shadows, a thick layer of leaf litter covers the ground, and brightly-hued pods hang from small cushions on the trunks and larger branches of the cacao trees (see Figure 1). Yet, this visually rich and colorful image of the cacao plantation belies the power dynamics that went into shaping it (Mitchell 43). From speculation around cultivated cacao’s origins and the meaning behind its given scientific name, to the plant’s perplexing genome and reliance on intensive labor, cacao has been at the center of tumultuous social and political forces. Cacao, from its plant form to final chocolate product, disguises a complex history that impacts how contemporary consumers view and value it today.

Costa Rica. On the Chocolate Tour
Figure 1: A cacao plantation evokes a vibrant, colorful scene, yet its picturesque appearance  masks the complex social and political forces that led to its formation.

To discuss the origins of cacao is to reconcile a story of multiple beginnings. On one hand, there is the genetic source of the tree; on the other hand, there is the start of its cultivation and role in the chocolate-making process (Coe 25). As a biological entity, the cacao tree originated between the northwest Amazon basin and eastern slopes of the South American Andes. The initial cultural significance of the cacao tree was for its fruit pulp, rather than its seeds. In fact, the cacao tree’s bounty was not used to make chocolate during pre-Columbian times in South America (Coe 25, 37). The consensus is that, by 1800 BCE, it was Mesoamerican innovation that led to the development of the intricate process of transforming cacao beans into chocolate. Yet, there is contention regarding exactly how a wild tree from the Amazon appeared in Central America and Mexico to become a cultural and economic juggernaut. One explanation is that the ecological range of wild cacao was as far-reaching from the Amazon to southern Mesoamerica. Another possibility is that the tree was domesticated in South America for its fruit and transported to Mesoamerica via coastal trading routes (Coe 25, 37). The precise chronology of how the cacao tree became domesticated for chocolate production remains ambiguous.

The enigmatic qualities of the cacao tree are further confounded when considering its scientific name. When European colonizers arrived in Mesoamerica in the 16th century, one of their objectives was to name—or, more aptly, “re-name” what native people had bestowed—plants according to the prevailing classification systems of the time. Carl von Linné, an 18th century Swedish scientist, gave the cacao tree a name that happened to capture the tension between the two worlds (Coe 18). The use of a Greek term for the genus, Theobroma, evokes a sense of heritage—which is fitting for the cacao tree’s long history—but is misleading about the cacao tree’s South American origins. Moreover, Theobroma translates to “food of the gods,” demonstrating how the European invaders recognized how treasured cacao was in Mesoamerican society. Yet, the decision to relegate the more accurate designation cacao to the specific name captures how colonizers viewed the New World as second-rate, lagging behind Europe. When put together, the designation Theobroma cacao simultaneously identifies and obscures the origins of the cacao tree. Just as its paradoxical scientific name persists nearly three hundred years later, the ability of the cacao tree to not conform to imposed classifications continues to this day. While cacao does not have a large genome as compared to other food plants, it resists standard categorizations based on form, color, and flavor when examining the transfer of genes from one generation to the next (Presilla 61). Modern research is still working to uncover the direct links between the genetics of cacao and how they are expressed in the physical morphology of the plant (Martin, Feb. 2018; see Figure 2).

Costa Rica. On the Chocolate Tour
Figure 2: The genes that influence the shape, color, and flavor of cacao pods between generations are the subject of contemporary research on cacao.

The botanical structure of cacao also subverts the notion that, because it is a cultivated food plant, it must be easy to propagate en masse. The cacao tree is, in fact, difficult to grow, with a very specific set of ecological requirements. Only in areas within 20 degrees north and south of the equator, at altitudes where temperatures are above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and under conditions of year-round moisture, does the cacao tree thrive (Coe 19). Cacao also exemplifies “biological inefficiency taken to the extreme” as only one to three percent of flowers bear fruit (Coe 21). Furthermore, the plant does not employ any dispersal mechanism for its seeds: animals intervene in the wild while humans perpetuate cultivated cacao by opening the pods and distributing the seeds (see Figure 3). The cacao tree’s need for intense and direct intervention has engendered a body of knowledge of expertise and skills, a material culture, a set of rituals, and a network of economies, that further elevate cacao’s cultural importance. Yet, this need for intense labor and involvement is not necessarily conveyed when viewing a cacao plantation (Mitchell 43). The opposite experience is even evoked with imagery of lush green canopy and rustic exoticism. While appearing idyllic, the form of a cacao plantation does not expose the exploitation of child labor or that only three percent of the final chocolate product’s economic value is allocated to the cacao farmers (Martin, Jan. 2018). How the contemporary consumer views production and how the producer experiences production are two opposing tensions that are tied to the cacao tree once again.

Workers harvested cacao…at the Monterosa plantation in Choroni, Venezuela in March
Figure 3: Direct human intervention is necessary for cultivating cacao and has led to the creation of an interconnected web of technical knowledge, cultural celebration, and economic exchange.

In short, the ambiguity of the origins of cultivated Theobroma cacao and the difficulty of classifying it, whether genetically or taxonomically, is significant for how cacao is framed and valued. Naming an object and establishing its genesis imbues it with importance and provides clues for how to derive meaning from its role in society. When cacao’s origins are unclear, end consumers may not be able to place it within a structure of similar meanings and, as a result, may lack a moral responsibility towards cacao’s source and production. The situation is exacerbated further when the seemingly picturesque appearance of a cacao plantation masks the inequality and struggles that go into shaping its formation. When viewing the landscape of modern cacao production, the question becomes: can consumers be made aware of cacao’s complex history in such a way that will empower them to action for social justice?

 

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.” 24 Jan. 2018. AAAS 119x, Harvard University.

Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao.” 14 Feb. 2018. AAAS 119x, Harvard University.

Mitchell, Don. “New axioms for reading the landscape: paying attention to political economy and social justice.” Political economies of landscape change. Springer, Dordrecht, 2008. 29-50.

Presilla, Maricel E. The new taste of chocolate: a cultural and natural history of cacao with recipes. Random House Digital, Inc., 2009.

Multimedia Sources

All Pods Unite.” By Everjean is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Costa Rica. On the Chocolate Tour.” By Everjean is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Kohut, Meridith. “Workers harvested cacao…at the Monterosa plantation in Choroni, Venezuela in March.” The New York Times. “In Venezuela, Plantations of Cacao Stir Bitterness,” by Simon Romero. 28 July 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/29/world/americas/29cacao.html

 

Chocolate Lessons: Knowledge Gleaned from Chocolate Bars Sold in the Natural Foods Aisle

On average, Americans consume 12 pounds of chocolate per person each year or a little less than a quarter pound of chocolate per week. A typical chocolate bar ranges from 1.5-3.5 ounces. Therefore, 12 pounds of chocolate equates to enjoying 55-128 chocolate bars (depending on its size) per year! It is safe to say, for better or for worse, chocolate has become an integral part of the American diet.

Historically, chocolate was consumed for medicinal purposes, primarily as a source of nourishment and energy. Today, the developed world struggles with being simultaneously over nourished and malnourished from an imbalanced diet. Nevertheless, chocolate health claims persist, usually in reference to darker chocolates. Beneficial properties of cocoa include antioxidant, cardiovascular, and psychological enhancement, which are linked to its polyphenol, flavanol, and caffeine content (Castell, Pérez-Cano, and Bisson, 2013). These health claims are not present on chocolate bar labels, though.

In the last couple of decades, food packaging has actually become quite informationally dense. How can you sift through all of the information on chocolate labels to know what’s really important? Additionally, what can we learn from a chocolate bar’s packaging, besides its nutritional content? The goal of this blog post is to help decipher the various symbols, certification meanings, and key words that appear on chocolate wrappers.

Ultimately, you, as the consumer, have to decide what is important to you and what you are looking for in your chocolate purchases, not only in terms of taste but also social responsibility. Equipping yourself with the knowledge to know what to look for, and what symbols, certifications, and other words on chocolate packages mean, makes informed chocolate purchases a much smoother process and ensures you have the best chocolate buying experience possible. Before chocolate tasting can become embodied knowledge, it requires repetition in order to pick up on flavor nuances of single origin chocolate or to be able to tell if a chocolate bar was made with over-roasted cacao beans. In the same way, learning the stories and processes behind the chocolate you are eating requires some research, occasionally beyond the label itself.

I studied the chocolate bars in the natural foods aisle of a Stop & Shop grocery store in the greater Boston area to see what information could be gleaned from the chocolate labels within this section. I did not include enrobed chocolate candies within this aisle, “regular” chocolate bars (i.e., Hershey’s) in the main candy aisle or those present in the checkout lanes. I chose to focus on the chocolate bars within the natural foods aisle because, typically, these brands offer more information and stories about cacao procurement, processing, and its impact on people or the environment, whereas chocolate produced by most Big Five brands only provide nutritional information on the back of the wrapper. The Big Five chocolate brands include well-known companies: Hershey, Mars, Cadbury, Nestle, and Ferrero (Allen, 2010).

The type of consumer who shops for chocolate in the natural foods aisle is most likely not just looking for a sugar fix because there are cheaper ways to meet that need. The intended audience includes individuals who may be interested in supporting social or environmental causes, and who are probably health conscious, even though it is still chocolate. Additionally, he or she may have a sophisticated or informed palate, and prefer quality chocolate with nuanced flavors. The natural foods aisle typically offers products that are slightly more expensive than its conventional counterparts, so the consumer is not making his or her choice of chocolate based solely on price point. Rather, the consumer possibly has a higher disposable income and is able to spend two or three times as much money on a chocolate bar from this section than on chocolate from one of the large chocolate corporations previously mentioned.

The natural foods aisle in Stop & Shop offers eight different brands of chocolate bars: Chocolove XOXOX, Green & Black’s, Divine, Theo, TCHO, LILY’s, Endangered Species Chocolate, and Alter Eco. These bars are being sold for $2.50-$3.99, with Chocolove XOXOX being the cheapest because it was on sale. Divine, LILY’s, and Alter Eco lands at the upper end of the options. The TCHO 70% dark chocolate bar usually retails for $4.29, but happened to be on sale. Still, these are moderately priced “good” chocolate bars compared to other specialty chocolate companies and retailers who sell their bars for about double the price. The juxtaposition of these brands, with a $1.00 (or less) Hershey’s chocolate bar, provides an interesting comparison in both price and taste.

The eight brands offer bars in a variety of flavors ranging from 34% milk chocolate to 85% dark chocolate with the option of added fruit or nut pieces. The white chocolate selection was nonexistent in this section at this particular grocery store. However, just for informational purposes, one brand (outside of the eight focused on here) does contribute a white chocolate peanut butter cup.

Just a few of the brands provide chocolate bars made from single origin cacao, which might be a more common provision at specialty retail stores. Both TCHO and Divine use Ghanaian cacao, and Alter Eco sources its cacao beans from Ecuador. Chocolove XOXOX states on the back of the wrapper that their Belgian chocolate bars are crafted with African cocoa beans. This somewhat vague statement only alludes to the fact that their beans do not come from Central or South America, or Southeast Asia but could be sourced from one or more of the cacao producing countries within the large continent of Africa. Additionally, Green & Black’s credits Trinitario cacao beans for giving their chocolate a rich and unique flavor profile. Trinitario cacao beans are thought to embody the best qualities of its genetic parents, the Criollo and Forastero varieties, with the hybrid cacao being both hardy and possessing a nice flavor profile (Prisilla, 2009). Likewise, the purpose of brands specifying single origin or the use of a single cacao variety suggests an increase in quality or flavor characteristics that add value to the end product. Thus, the price of these types of bars is usually slightly higher compared to mixed bean origin or variety, and especially compared to bulk cacao.

There are a few things that stand out upon taking a closer look at the packages. First, Alter Eco is the only brand that uses a cardboard packaging to house its chocolate. All of the other brands wrap their bars in a glossy paper. In both cases, the chocolate is likely sealed in foil before receiving either the glossy paper or cardboard outer wrapper. While the outer cardboard layer looks visually appealing and feels nice to the touch, it also makes the bar appear larger than it actually is. The 2.8 ounce Alter Eco chocolate bar looks bigger than the 3 ounce LILY’S bar sitting next to it on the shelf, as the image shows below. Thus, most consumers probably believe they are purchasing a larger chocolate bar if they do not read the front of the package and realize the chocolate bar is smaller by weight than some other options.

FullSizeRender-2 2
Alter Eco 2.8 ounce chocolate bar

Like several other brands, Theo includes a brief description about the company and their procurement and processing practices on the back of the package. Here, Theo shares it is a bean to bar chocolate company, which means the company purchases the fermented and dried cacao beans, and then carries out each of the remaining processing steps (about 10) from roasting to packaging, according to their unique preferences. Thus, the company oversees the entire chocolate making process and can tweak each batch according to its needs and the desired outcome, making it a true craft.

Green & Black’s label does not readily offer information about the company’s processing practices other than it uses fair trade and organic ingredients. Interestingly, the backside of the label does say Mondelez Global LLC distributes Green & Black’s chocolate bars. Mondelez is one of the largest global snack food companies and now owns Cadbury, one of the Big Five chocolate companies. Last year, Mondelez even attempted to acquire the Hershey Company, but Hershey declined the offer (Bukhari, 2017). Thus, Mondelez is a significant player within the global food system. This association alone may deter some consumers from purchasing Green & Black’s chocolate.

Another unexpected but perhaps pioneering find is LILY’s, whose chocolate bars are sweetened with the natural sweetener, Stevia, and erythritol, a sugar alcohol. Additionally, LILY’s adds inulin, a fiber commonly used as a bulking agent. These are not traditional chocolate bar ingredients, but perhaps the fewer calories and grams of sugar allow individuals with specific dietary restrictions to still purchase fair trade chocolate. The bar also boasts that it is still “100% indulgent.”

Before dissecting the chocolate bars’ various certifications, I want to look at Divine’s commitment to its producers. In the West, chocolate consumption has long been feminized, associated with temptation and indulgence (Robertson, 2009). Women are important as both chocolate consumers and producers, something Divine has recognized. The two images above depict Divine’s pledge to support the female cacao farmers within Kuapa Kokoo (cocoa co-operative) in Ghana and make sure their voices are heard. In doing so, these female business owners are positioned as powerful actors within the cacao and chocolate industries, rather than being viewed as exploited workers in an underdeveloped country (Leissle, 2012). This has significant implications not only for the female producers, but also culturally, and for future standards within the chocolate industry.

This final section includes a brief discussion on food certifications. Fair trade certification is the most popular certification that the eight brands feature. Other certifications that appear on the chocolate wrappers include USDA Organic, Non-GMO Verified, Certified Gluten-Free, Certified Vegan, Kosher (dairy), Fair for Life, and rBST free. I was surprised I did not find the UTZ Certified symbol on any of the chocolate bars, since UTZ is the most common cacao certification related to sustainable farming practices.

Fair trade certifications can be represented in a variety of ways depending on the party providing the certification. The images above show several different certifications present on the different brands’ packaging that symbolize the employment of fair trade practices. In order for a product to be labeled “fair trade,” all members of the processing chain (including producers) must pay into the fair trade system. As a result, producers are promised better trading conditions including long term relationships with buyers, garner presumably higher wages, have better working conditions, and live overall improved lives. However, many question whether this system is as transformative as it claims to be. The terms “fair trade” and “sustainable” have become ubiquitous, and the commodification of the terms also threatens their legitimacy (Sylla, 2014).

When thinking about food certifications, it is important to remember these certifications are neither all encompassing nor meant to solve all social or environmental issues with one label. Companies are now starting to launch their own certifications rather than going through a third party certification. It will be up to the individual company to define the criteria for “fair” or “sustainable,” or any new term it deems important. Whole Foods already uses its “Whole Trade Certified” label. Consequently, continuing to be an educated consumer will be extremely imperative in order to know what the certifications represent and what the companies stand for. It is unclear whether these self-certifications will be viewed as legitimate certifications or just add to the confusion many consumers feel when reading food labels.

While the objective of self-certification is to offer more affordable fair trade items to consumers, it raises the question of whether that should be the ultimate goal of selling fair trade products, and what the tradeoffs are for making fair trade more affordable and part of the mainstream? If large food conglomerates begin to self-regulate certifications, rather than paying third party companies, who is to say the consumer will actual benefit from the money saved? Historically, when the price of goods has dropped, large corporations scoop up the difference and pocket the extra profits, rather than decreasing the cost for the consumer (Albrittion, 2013). However, consumers still have the power to vote with their dollars.

The next time you peruse the chocolate selection within a store, feel empowered to study the information provided on the packaging (and conduct further research if needed) rather than being overwhelmed by various symbols and industry jargon.

 

**All images were taken by the author

 

Works Cited

Albritton, Robert. 2013. “Between Obesity And Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry”. In Food And Culture: A Reader, 3rd ed., 342-352. New York: Routledge.

Allen, Lawrence L. 2010. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle For The Hearts, Minds, And Wallets Of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association.

Bukhari, Jeff. 2017. “Why Investors Are Bingeing On Snack-Maker Mondelez”. Fortune.Com. http://fortune.com/2017/02/22/why-investors-are-bingeing-on-snack-maker-mondelez/.

Castell, Margarida, Francisco Jose Pérez-Cano, and Jean-François Bisson. 2013. “Clinical Benefits Of Cocoa: A Review”. In Chocolate In Health And Nutrition, 1st ed., 265-276. Humana Press.

Leissle, Kristy. 2012. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24 (2): 121-139. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13696815.2012.736194

Prisilla, Maricel E. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. 1st ed. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Robertson, Emma. 2009. Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty To Benefit The Rich. 1st ed. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

Economic Viability vs. Social Responsibility: A Glimpse into Cadbury’s Early Business Ethics

IMG_5116                                IMG_5118

Every spring, particularly around Easter, the iconic Cadbury Creme Eggs (pictured above) command significant shelf space in nearly every store. For many decades people around the world have received immense pleasure from cracking the egg’s chocolate shell open to release the gooey and cloyingly sweet yellow and white fondant, which resembles a chicken egg, but tastes drastically different. Before the idea for the traditional Cadbury Creme Egg was hatched, the Cadbury company struggled to sustain its favor with the public. Chocolate adulteration scandals and questionable business ethics created public relations nightmares and could have ruined the chocolate giant. Perhaps you will be surprised (or not) to learn that Cadbury’s idyllic Quaker village in Bournville, England, constructed during a time of chocolate success and expansion, revealed a lifestyle and way of conducting business very contradictory to the laborers who procured the cocoa.[1]

Despite the Quaker values of the Cadbury family, they made some questionable decisions in terms of business ethics. When it came to the adulteration of chocolate, which littered the chocolate industry during the 1800s, and cocoa sourced under slave-like conditions, the Cadbury’s either turned a blind-eye or lacked proper oversight throughout their production chain. In these instances, it appears economic benefits outweighed moral duties.

While other companies were caught adding ground brick to their chocolate confections, Cadbury admitted to adding starch and flour to their products. By the end of the 19th century, the Cadbury chocolate adulteration scandals had been counteracted with advertising campaigns promoting their purity promise: “Absolutely Pure, Therefore Best” (Coe & Coe 2013, 245). This was successful and a period of growth followed. Keeping in line with the company’s Quaker values and its paternalistic interest in its workers, George Cadbury constructed a model village, Bournville, for Cadbury company workers complete with ample housing, recreation facilities, and a school (Satre 2005). The photograph below reveals just a small section of the Bournville Village circa 1903 with its clean, wide streets and large housing units surrounded by well-groomed landscaping. Although the company expected a high level of productivity and reliability from its chocolate factory workers during the 48-hour workweek, Cadbury clearly invested back into the community to create a family-like atmosphere.

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However, this idyllic chocolate community and way of life did not extend down to the cocoa laborers, perhaps because they were indirectly working for Cadbury. During the early 1900s, the Cadbury company relied on the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe for nearly half of its cocoa beans. Lowell Satre (2005, 24), author of Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business, reports that in 1902, Cadbury alone purchased 20% of the cocoa produced on those two islands.

Just one year prior, in 1901, Cadbury became aware of the post-abolition slavery practices on São Tomé and Príncipe after the release of some publications from British investigative journalist, Henry Nevinson (Martin 2017). However appalled George Cadbury may have been by the thought of enslaved workers procuring the cocoa his company processed, his 7-year remiss reaction failed to show any grave concern. Catherine Higgs (2012, 137), author of Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa reveals Cadbury, “rejected the idea of a boycott, since it would rob the chocolate makers of the leverage they enjoyed as major buyers of São Toméan cocoa.” Clearly boycotting slave-produced cocoa purely on moral grounds was not as important as economic clout and would only be used as a last resort tactic unless another economically viable option became available.

Technically, [legally] the cocoa laborers worked under a type of indentured servitude, as serviçaes, and could be repatriated after their contracts ended, though it was inefficaciously enforced. Despite Cadbury’s correspondence with island visitors who reported “good treatment” of workers, the death rate was still astronomical, with the life expectancy of an enslaved cocoa worker on São Tomé and Príncipe to be less than a decade (Higgs 2012 and Martin 2017). Even though cocoa laborers on the islands were not technically Cadbury employees, since the Cadbury company sourced a significant amount of their cocoa beans there, they were part of the demand issue that kept the laborers working more hours than required by their British counterparts. Thus, it begs the question, should Cadbury have been responsible for allowing these conditions to persist or aiding in alleviating them? Not only did the Cadbury company benefit from the cheap commodity produced by slave labor, but the Portuguese government did also. Knowing this, perhaps the British government should have shared in the responsibility as well.

Cadbury’s moral and social responsibility seemed to be reflected more in word than in deed. Although Cadbury investigated the conditions in São Tomé over several years, both in person and through correspondences with adversaries, he did not institute a boycott of slave-grown cocoa for nearly a decade after first learning of the severe conditions. Meanwhile, the company profited. Part of the reason for the delay was the thought that if English chocolate companies did not buy cocoa from São Tomé and Príncipe, “someone else would” (Satre 2005).

Unfortunately, this was true. When the Cadbury company finally ceased purchasing cocoa from the islands, along with a few other English chocolate firms, U.S. based chocolate companies swooped in. Cadbury had not miraculously decided to finally take the high road after eight years though. Two months prior, Cadbury purchased land on the Gold Coast (present day Ghana), with plans to build a factory site (Higgs 2012). While this new cocoa district was not experiencing the slave-like conditions of the islands, it offered a different form of cheap labor, which could be considered questionable labor practices as well.

Thus, this move to the Gold Coast was economically favorable and seemed to pacify public concerns. Inequalities still persisted between the chocolate factory workers in Britain and the cocoa harvesters in Africa. One thing is clear: satisfying commercial interests took priority. The battle between economic viability, moral duty and social responsibility still persists in the chocolate world today.

 

[1] In this post, “cocoa” is synonymous with cacao or cacao beans; the raw product or unprocessed commodity used to make chocolate.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013. The True History of Chocolate, 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Martin, Carla. 2017. “Slavery and Forced Labor in the Atlantic World.” Lecture, Chocolate, Culture and the Politics of Food from Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 1.

Satre, Lowell J. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens:     Ohio University Press.